How to Transport a Canoe on Your Vehicle

5-minute read

It’s important you learn how to transport a canoe properly to avoid damaging either your canoe or your vehicle…or risk damaging other vehicles while you’re on the road.

 man tying a canoe down to his car's roofrack

Let’s take a look at some options for strapping your canoe down safely onto your vehicle:

Lift the Canoe to Your Vehicle’s Roof

Canoes are transported upside down, with the hull at the top. Be careful not to bang it into your vehicle as you place it on the roof, and don’t slide it across the paint, as it can scratch.

 man lifting a canoe, ready to put it on his roof rack; another man walking towards him to help

You can lift your canoe to your vehicle’s roof either alone (if your canoe is light enough for you) or with a friend. If you’re alone, you’ll want to carry it with the center yoke, as if you were portaging. If there are two of you, you can each take an end and lift it up.

Rope or Cam Straps?

The tools you choose—rope or cam straps—are up to you and your budget.

Rope has been used by canoeists for decades to tie down canoes to vehicles. If you know and use the right knots, you’ll have no problem using rope. Zack, from Frontenac Outfitters, suggests rope no wider than 3/16-inch, and made of material that won’t stretch when it’s wet.

Cam straps are very easy to use. Unlike ratchet straps, they won’t scratch your canoe as the buckle is protected by rubber fittings. These are worth the investment if you’ll transport your canoe regularly.

For the bow and stern, rope with good knots will work, or pick up some bow and stern cam straps that come with accompanying hooks. If your vehicle doesn’t have anything to tie down to at the front and back (as many don’t), Quickie Hood Loops are a great option.

Transport a Canoe on a Vehicle with a Roof Rack

If your vehicle has a roof rack, make sure the rack is in good condition and firmly attached to the roof. If your rack doesn’t have crossbars, you’ll need to add them.

Center your canoe on top of the rack’s crossbars, both from side to side and from front to back. The center yoke of the canoe should be centered between the two crossbars for the most secure fit.

You’ll loop the middle of the strap around one end of the crossbar and toss both ends back over to the other side of the vehicle. Draw the loose end of the strap under the crossbar on that side and fasten it to the cam. Do the same with the other strap. Tighten each so the canoe is firmly tied down and won’t budge at all.

 man ties a canoe down to his roof rack

If you’re only driving a short distance, these two straps will probably be enough. If you’ll drive across town or for several hours, though, you’ll want to tie down the bow and stern of the canoe to your vehicle, too.

Take a look at this video from Frontenac Outfitters for a visual walk-through of this whole process.

If your vehicle is a pickup truck, there are several different types of canoe racks you can buy, from $20 to over $400. has some suggestions here.

Transport a Canoe on a Vehicle without a Roof Rack

If your vehicle doesn’t have a roof rack, you can still transport a canoe safely. You can buy foam blocks specifically designed for this purpose, so your vehicle’s roof doesn’t get scratched. If you don’t want to invest in those, pool noodles can work, too.

With the foam blocks, fit them onto the canoe’s gunnels before lifting it to the vehicle’s roof. Pool noodles are trickier—you’ll want another person to help you out.

Once the canoe is safely on top of your vehicle, you’ll need to run the cam straps or rope all the way through your vehicle’s windows or doors to get a secure fit. (Be careful of the weather stripping as you do that.) With flat cam straps, your doors or windows should be able to close firmly without a problem.

Then tie down the bow and stern for extra security if you’re traveling more than a few miles.

 two men work on getting a canoe strapped down to a vehicle

Here are a couple videos that demonstrate transporting a canoe without a roof rack, from Survival on Purpose and Rugged Outdoors Guide.

Transporting Two Canoes

If your vehicle has a roof rack, you can safely transport two canoes, assuming your crossbars can be lengthened or are already long enough to accommodate them.

For the most secure fit, be sure and tie down each canoe to the middle of the crossbar as well as its outside end. So you’ll need four lengths of rope or 4 cam straps, two for each canoe. Then tie down each bow and stern to the front and back of your vehicle.

Remember, it’s your responsibility to be sure your canoe is tied down securely so it doesn’t fly off while you’re driving down the highway. You don’t want to cause damage or injury to your own gear or anyone else who’s sharing the road with you.

(All photos courtesy of @five2nine)

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

More for you...